- 13 Oct 2021 13:19
October 14, Wednesday
In Virginia, General Hill’s lean marchers take the lead. Remembering the rewards of Jackson’s strike, they put their best foot forward, if for no other reason than the hope of getting it shod. Shoes, warm clothes, food, and victory: all these lie before them, fifteen miles away in Bristoe, if they can only arrive in time to forestall a Yankee getaway. As they march their hopes are heightened by the evidence that Meade, though clearly on the run, has no great head start in the race. Hill’s soldiers find early campfires still burning. Guns, knapsacks, blankets, etc., strewn along the road show that the enemy is moving in rapid retreat, and prisoners sent in every few minutes confirm Confederates’ opinion that Meade is fleeing in haste.
Not everyone with Meade approve of his cautious tactics; but Meade is watching and waiting, from Rappahannock Station through Warrenton Junction, for the chance he has in mind. Then suddenly,just up the line at Bristoe Station, he gets it. The opportunity is brief, scarcely more indeed than half an hour from start to finish, but he makes the most of it while it lasts. Or anyhow, the untried Warren does. Approaching Bristoe from the west at high noon, after a rapid march of fifteen miles, Hill sees northeastward, beyond Broad Run and out of reach, heavy columns of the enemy slogging toward Manassas Junction, a scant four miles away. He hasn’t won the race. But neither has he lost it, he sees next, not entirely. What appears to be the last corps in the Federal army is only about half over the run, crossing at a ford just north of the little town on the railroad, which comes in arrow-straight from the southwest, diagonal to the Confederate line of march. The uncrossed half of the blue corps, jammed in a mass on the near bank of the stream while its various components await their turn at the ford, seem to Little Powell to be his for the taking, provided he moves promptly. This he does. Ordering Heth, whose division is in the lead, to go immediately from march to attack formation, he puts two of his batteries into action and sends word for Anderson, whose division is in column behind Heth’s, to come forward on the double and reinforce the attack. Fire from the guns do more to hasten than to impede the crossing, however, and Hill tells Heth, though he has only two of his four brigades in line by now, to attack at once lest the bluecoats get away. Heth obeys, but as his men start forward he catches a glint of bayonets to their right front, behind the railroad embankment. When he reports this to Hill, asking whether he wouldn’t do better to halt and make a reconnaissance, Hill tells him to keep going: Anderson will be arriving soon to cover his flank. So the two brigades go on. It presently develops, however, that what they are going on to is by no means the quick victory their commander intends, but rather a sudden and bloody repulse at the hands of veterans who stood fast on Cemetery Ridge, fifteen weeks ago tomorrow, to serve Picket in much the same fashion, except that here the defenders have the added and rare advantage of surprise.
They make the most of it. Behind the embankment, diagonal to the advancing line, is the II Corps under Warren, the former chief of engineers, who, demonstrating here at Bristoe as sharp an eye for terrain as he showed in saving Little Round Top, has set for the unsuspecting rebels “as fine a trap as could have been devised by a month’s engineering.” His—not Sykes’s, as Hill had supposed from a hurried look at the crowded ford and the heavy blue columns already beyond Broad Run—is the last of the five Federal corps, and when he saw the situation up ahead he improvised the trap that is now sprung. As the two gray brigades come abreast of the three cached divisions, the bluecoats open fire with devastating effect. Back up the slope, Little Powell watches in dismay as his troops, reacting with soldierly but misguided instinct, wheel right to charge the embankment wreathed in smoke from the enfilading blasts of musketry. This new attempt, by two stunned brigades against three confident divisions, can have but one outcome. The survivors who come stumbling back are pitifully few, for many of the startled graybacks choose surrender, preferring to remain with their fallen comrades rather than try to make their return journey up the bullet-torn slope they had just descended. Elated, the Federals make a quick sortie that nets them five pieces of artillery and two stands of colors, which they take with them when they draw off, unmolested, across the run. The worst loss to the Confederates, though, is men. Both brigade commanders are shot down, along with nearly 1,400 killed or wounded and another 450 captured. The total is thus close to 1,900 casualties, as compared to a Union total of about 300, only fifty of whom were killed.
Indignation sweeps through the gray army when the rest of it arrives in the course of the afternoon and learns of what happened at midday, down in the shallow valley of Broad Run. No segment of the Army of Northern Virginia has suffered such a one-sided defeat since Mechanicsville, which was also the result of Little Powell’s impetuosity. Hill’s only reply to his critics is included in the report he will submit within two weeks. “I am convinced that I made the attack too hastily,” he will write, “and at the same time that a delay of half an hour, and there would have been no enemy to attack. In that event I believe I should equally have blamed myself for not attacking at once.” Seddon and Davis both will endorse Hill’s conclusion that he was overhasty.
Elsewhere, action includes fighting near Man’s Creek, Shannon County, Missouri; a skirmish with Shelby’s cavalry at Scott’s Ford, Missouri; skirmishing at Creek Agency, Indian Territory; Carrion Crow Bayou, Louisiana; Blountsville and Loudoun, Tennessee; and Salt Lick Bridge, West Virginia. Union expeditions of several days operate from Messinger’s Ferry on the Big Black toward Canton, Mississippi; and from Matchez and Fort Adams, Mississippi, to the Red River in Louisiana, seeking Confederate guerrillas.
Major General Christopher C. Auger supersedes Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman in command of the Federal Department of Washington, D.C.
President Davis in a message to the Army of Tennessee says, “Though you have done much, very much yet remains to be done. Behind you is a people providing for your support and depending on you for protection. Before you is a country devastated by your ruthless invader....”
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.